May 232017
 

 

Latino Traffic Report has learned that Volkswagen Group of America, Inc. (Volkswagen) is recalling certain 2017 Audi Q5 vehicles. Due to a manufacturing defect within the gearbox, despite selecting the Park position, the vehicle may still unexpectedly roll, if the parking brake is not applied, increasing the risk of a crash.

Audi will notify owners, and dealers will replace the gearbox in the affected vehicles, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin in May 2017. Owners may contact Audi customer service at 1-800-253-2834. Volkswagen’s number for this recall is 37K6.

Owners may also contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153), or go to www.safercar.gov.

Mar 202017
 

Riding the wave of growing sport utility vehicle (SUV) sales, the premium SUV segment reported an increase in sales year to date by five percent, according to the Wall Street Journal. The segment is not the largest, but when you drop an average of $60K on a premium SUV, be prepared for lots of bells and whistles.

Latino Traffic Report recently drove the all-new 2017 Audi Q7 for a weeklong test drive. Its premium appointments inside stood out, but not all were standard and the extras did cost a pretty penny.

What sets an Audi apart in the segment is its performance heritage. The Q7 gets its power from a 3.0-liter V6 with 333 horses and 325 lb.–ft. of torque matched to an eight-speed Tiptronic transmission—hence the paddle shifters on the steering wheel. It’s also equipped with Audi’s quattro all-wheel drive system.

The EPA expected fuel economy is 19 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. I averaged 21.1 mpg.

Like most premium SUVs, the Q7 adheres to expectations, with plush leather seating, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, tri-zone automatic climate control, and a singular infotainment system, MMI—Audi’s is less intuitive than others, but I did like that it allowed for 48 different radio presets.

The test model also included red, white, and blue, interior lighting accent strips, a panoramic sunroof, heated and cooled seats in the front, and a power liftgate. What really distinguished Audi’s interior, besides the fit and finish, were features like a pop-up display above the center stack that displays navigation maps and other functions. With seating for seven, it has a convenient button to release the third-row bench to fold flat. The second row, was not automatic and therefore, a little less easy to deploy.

Unique safety features like  Audi pre-sense basic and pre-sense plus that help detect and mitigate a potential collision, were also included.As mentioned earlier, additional creature comforts came at a price.

The Prestige Package ($9,500) added 20-inch ten spoke wheels, the Bose 3D surround sound stereo system, navigation, and a heads up display on the windshield, Audi Connect Prime and Plus, Audi Connect Care, and my favorite safety features, a blind spot monitor and rear parking sensor. For $4,000, the Q7 amped up its ride and handling with an Adaptive Chassis Package that included air suspension and four-wheel steering. The Driver Assistance Package ($2,400) added adaptive cruise control, another of my favorite features, active lane assist, and traffic sign recognition. Finally, the Cold Weather Package ($500) included a heated steering wheel and heated rear seats.

Redesigned for 2017, the second-generation Q7 has a starting price of $55,750.The as-tested price came to $72,875.

 

Sí: The Audi Q7 lives up to its premium brand with sophisticated design, inside and out.

No: Upgrades to the Q7 can add up quickly.

Mar 142017
 

Chevy Cruze

Available at all ends of the price spectrum, the ubiquitous sedan comes in an assortment of incarnations, from a comfortable, affordable commuter to a sumptuous performance machine. Here’s an overview of the sedans tested by Latino Traffic Report (LTR) and what makes them stand out in a crowded field.

Chevy Cruze

Redesigned in 2016, the Chevy Cruze compact sedan continues to compete in one of the toughest automotive segments by ramping up both its style and amenities.

For starters, the new version is larger and lighter, increasing its EPA estimated fuel economy to 30 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 40 mpg on the highway.

The new 1.4-liter inline four-cylinder turbo engine with 153 horses is matched to a six-speed manual or available six-speed automatic transmission (North America). I drove the automatic and earned an average 35 mpg. A diesel engine becomes available in the spring of 2017.

As mentioned, it comes with a healthy list of standard features including keyless entry, XM Satellite radio (three months), OnStar (six months), OnStar Basic Plan (five years), and a rearview camera. New available features include wireless phone charging, heated rear seats and heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Happily, I drove the Premier or top-of-the-line model that included the available OnStar 4G LTE with Wi-Fi hotspot and keyless start plus all the above via the Enhanced Convenience Package ($865), as well as the Driver Convenience Package ($790) that added essentials like rear park assist, forward collision, rear cross traffic, and lane change alert with a blind zone warning. Oddly, neither a sunroof nor leather seats are available.

Still, the fit and finish inside this model was quite impressive, definitely a step up from the outgoing model.

The as-tested pricing for the Cruze Premier came to $26,045.

 

Toyota Camry

The Camry is a top seller among Latinos as well as the nation. It’s been a leader in the midsize segment for the last 14 years. So if it ain’t broke, perhaps the task for Toyota is just to make more versions? The LTR test drive featured the Camry SE Special Edition. While many manufacturers have joined the darkened trend for special editions, Toyota chose to go blue.

Powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder matched to six-speed automatic transmission, it should achieve an impressive EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy of 25/35 mpg. I averaged 26.3 mpg. A 3.5-liter V6 is available on other Camrys.

Toyota applied the Special Edition to the SE trim as it’s already distinguished by a sporty design, from the grille to the suspension. On the inside, the sport fabric Softex seats featured blue accent stitching and blue seat inserts. Blue accents were also included in the gauge cluster, as well as a power moonroof.

Specific technology on this trim included a Smart Key System and Qi wireless charging for compatible smart phones, enabling navigation from a smart phone.

Exclusive design features include a smoked treatment on the taillights and 18-inch alloy wheels in a machined finish and gloss black-painted accents. For a mere $525, the Camry also included a ramped up Entune premium audio with navigation, a seven-inch high-resolution touch screen with split-screen display, and a CD player.

While a redesigned 2018 version of the Camry is currently touring auto shows, there’s still time to grab the current generation.

The as-tested Camry Special Edition pricing came to $27,075.

 

 

Kia Optima

Kia ramped up the 2016 version of the Optima with a redesign, giving its top-selling nameplate a more refined exterior look, new technology, and creature comforts offered at the same starting price as the outgoing model. The 2017 model receives a few tweaks and upgraded trims.

Optima rear view camera with multiple angles.

There are three available four-cylinder engines to power the Optima, distributed among five trim levels. The test model, Optima SX Turbo, came equipped with 2.0-liter turbo-powered four-cylinder engine matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. A seven-speed dual clutch transmission is also available.

All three engines include the Active Eco System and Driver Mode Select with an Eco option to conserve gas. The EPA estimated fuel economy for the test model is 22 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. I averaged 31 mpg.

As a midsize sedan, Kia competes in a tough segment. It has an edge, however, with an exceptional bumper-to-bumper warranty (five years or 60,000 miles) and with a healthy list of standard features. Situated near the top of the line, second to the Optima SXL, the test model included extra technology and creature comforts. Standard features on the test model included dual-zone air conditioning, cruise control, AM/FM/MP3 audio unit with satellite radio, an eight-inch LCD rear-camera display, and Bluetooth.

Additionally, the test model added the SXT Premium Technology Package ($4,800) brought a slew of features like a panoramic sunroof, Harman Kardon Surround Sound system, heated and cooled front seats, Blind spot Detection and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.

The as-tested price for the Optima, built in West Point, GA, was $35,315.

Acura ILX

Considered a gateway to the Acura brand, the ILX is the most affordable Acura model available. The test model, ILX Tech Plus A-SPEC, however, included multiple packages that ramped up its appeal and price.

The sporty ILX gets its oomph from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 201 horsepower and 180 lb.–ft. of torque. Matched to an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, the powertrain should achieve an EPA city/highway estimated fuel economy of 25/36 mpg. I averaged 29.9 mpg.

Expect to feel the road with the ILX which lacks adjustable drive mode select technology to adjust ride and handling.

With refreshed looks on the outside for 2016, including restyled front and rear fasciae, front grille, and rear LED combination lights, the A-SPEC package also added sporty side sill garnishes, a trunk spoiler, front fog lights, new 18-inch, ten-spoke machined alloy wheels, sport pedals, and sport seats with suede inserts.

As the name implied, the ILX Tech Plus A-SPEC was packed with packages that brought a long list of features starting with the Premium Package that included XM Satellite radio, a blind spot monitor and rear cross traffic monitor among other features. The Tech Package added navigation, multi-view rear camera, and the Acura ELS AM/FM/CD sound system. Finally, the Acura Watch Plus Package completed the picture with adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, and braking among other features.

As tested pricing for the top-of-the-line ILX Tech Plus A-SPEC came to $35,810.

 

Volkswagen Passat

Passat 1.8T SE

With a base price of $23,260, the Passat is more affordable than expected for a European mid-size sedan, one that happens to be built at VW’s Chattanooga, TN plant. LTR tested two Passat trim levels, the sporty 1.8T SE with Technology and the SEL Premium.

Updated inside and out for 2016, the Passat remains understated but sophisticated in appearance.

Powered by the four-cylinder 1.8-liter turbocharged engine matched to a six-speed automatic transmission should help the Passat SE achieve an impressive EPA city/highway estimated fuel economy of 25/38 mpg. I averaged 27.4 mpg.

Passat SEL Premium

The more affordable trim level of the two I drove included important technology like the intelligent crash response system, but also comfort features like heated front seats and MIB II, the new generation of Volkswagen’s infotainment system, adaptive cruise control and a rearview camera for added convenience.

As the name implies the SEL Premium is the higher-end version of the Passat and replete with more bells and whistles that do come at a high price, nearly $10,000 more.

Powered by a 3.6-liter V6 and a six-speed transmission, it has an EPA city/highway estimated fuel economy of 20/28 mpg. I averaged 24.3 mpg.

It had heated front and rear leather seats, a Fender premium audio system, a power sunroof, parking sensor, and a blind spot monitor.

Both models had a massive truck with 15.9 cubic feet of storage and 60/40-split rear seat that easily deploys to expand cargo room inside.

As-tested pricing for the SE and SEL came to $28,195 and $37,655 respectively.

 

Audi A3

Audi A3 Sedan

Believe it or not, there’s actually an entry-level Audi and it’s called the A3. On this test for LTR, there were two models for review, the Sedan and the Cabriolet (convertible).

The Sedan offers three engine options and the Cabriolet two. Both test models shared the same one, a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine that produced 220 horsepower and 258 lb.–ft. of torque matched to a six-speed S tronic transmission. Both also came with quattro all-wheel drive, but the sedan should manage to achieve one more mile per gallon in the city and highway, with an EPA estimated fuel economy of 24/33 mpg. I averaged 23.7 mpg with the Sedan and 21.4 mpg with the Cabriolet.

What the Cabriolet did excel at was fun, starting with the canvas top that deployed with the push of a button at speeds of up to 31 mph and, ideally, in 18 seconds—it took 24 seconds when I tried.

Audi A3 Cabriolet

Standard safety technology on all A3s includes, a rear view camera, and parking system. To get advanced systems like Audi Side Assist (blind spot warning) requires purchasing the Technology Package ($2,700), which also adds a CD/DVD player, Audi MMI touch, and navigation, among other features.

The A3 may be considered “entry level” but it’s still an Audi, and as such, standard creature comforts include dual-zone climate control, leather seating, and SiriusXM Satellite radio. The sedan also came with a panoramic sunroof.

Both added extra packages to get features like heated front seats, Audi advanced Key, and Audi music interface with iPod cable.

As tested pricing for the Sedan came to $41,325 and $46,500 for the Cabriolet.

 

Lexus GS F

Lexus’s new design DNA, including the signature spindle grille, signaled a new focus on sportiness. The manufacturer even created a special performance lineup under the F brand. New for 2016, the GS F performance sedan leaves little doubt that it’s a Lexus, particularly with its premium appointments on the inside, but its sportiness is certainly sets it apart.

Exterior design features get bolder on F models, including the fascia with race-inspired functional air inlets, triple-beam headlamps, low-slung wide stance, large brake calipers, carbon-fiber rear spoiler, and quad exhaust rear diffuser.

To show it means business, Lexus powers the GS F with a 5.0-liter V8 with 467 horses and 389 lb.–ft. of torque. It’s matched to an eight-speed Sport Direct Shift Automatic Transmission with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.

Fuel economy will not be its strongest feature but it is respectable. The EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy is 16/24 mpg. I averaged 17.7 mpg.

For better performance and handling, the GS F sits on a double-wishbone in the front and rear multi-link suspension. Lexus adds Brembo disc brakes and Active Sound Control, to increase throatiness and rumble to the engine and exhaust notes. Drive Mode Select control further enhances performance by giving the driver the following options—NORMAL, ECO, SPORT S, SPORT S+—while Torque Vectoring Differential helps the GS F hug the road.

All new for 2016, improvements in 2017, like a new Linear Adaptive Variable Suspension, accentuate the positive, with more power and better responsiveness.

All this performance and power doesn’t come cheap. The as-tested pricing for the GS F was $87,175.

 

Oct 242016
 
2016 Lexus RX 350 F Sport

2016 Lexus RX 350 F Sport

Sport and Crossover Utility Vehicles (SUVs and CUVs) claimed family vehicle status long ago, and sales reflect that. According to statistics published by The Wall Street Journal, while car sales dropped significantly in September, year-to-date (YTD), sales of CUVs and SUVs rose more than seven percent totaling nearly five million units. Compact or full size, these vehicles help families transport themselves and their cargo with varying ease. I test-drove several models for Latino Traffic Report this year. Here are snapshot reviews of seven of them.

Crossovers

Audi Q3 2.0T quattro Tiptronic

2015-10-20-audiq3Compact CUVs comprise one of the fastest growing segments. The smaller size may mean a sacrifice in cargo and people carrying but it’s replaced with better fuel economy and maneuverability in an urban landscape. Audi’s entry in this segment adds premium appeal, from seating to technology.

The 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine and six-speed Tiptronic transmission should achieve 2015-10-20-audi-q3-dashan EPA estimated fuel economy of 20 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. I averaged 21.1 mpg.

The Audi Quattro signature all-wheel-drive (AWD) system was included on the test model, providing better grip on the road and improved handling.

All Q3s include standard heated leather front seating—on the test model, it was a delicious Chestnut Brown shade—a panoramic sunroof, dual-zone climate control, parking sensors, and a rearview camera. The test model added the Prestige package ($4,900) with navigation, Audi connect in-vehicle Wi-Fi, a power tailgate, and ventilated front seats.

2015-10-20-audi-q3The five-seater comes with a 60/40-split second row that folds flat automatically with the push of a button, no need to negotiate clunky levers. With the seats folded, cargo volume reaches 48.2 cubic feet (cu.ft.). Another striking touch was the interior lighting strips that changed color, from red to white to blue.

The digital instrument cluster can be configured to display different information and a seven-inch touch screen pops up from the center of the dashboard to reveal several functions, from audio to navigation. Audi’s combination of a dial and push buttons on the center stack for programming entertainment functions is a little labor intensive.

Pricing for the 2016 Q3 starts at $32,750. The as-tested pricing came to $41,975.

Hyundai Santa Fe Limited AWD

2016-03-29-santafefrontCrossovers are by far the most popular segment, selling more than three million YTD. Like Baby Bear’s porridge, the segment is just right for families.

The Hyundai Santa Fe offers various configurations so that it can meet its owner’s particular needs. It can be configured to seat five, seven, or six passengers like the test model that had the captains chairs rather than a second row bench. It also included Hyundai’s active on-demand AWD system.

Powered by a 3.3-liter V6 engine and a six-speed automatic Shiftronic transmission, it had an EPA city/highway estimated fuel economy of 17/22 mpg. It also had an Eco button to enhance fuel economy further. I took full advantage of it and averaged 19.2 mpg during the week-long test drive.

2016-03-29-santafe-rearAdvanced safety features, like a blind spot monitor, tend to be included in a package or more expensive trims and the Santa Fe is no exception. It was standard on the up-level Limited that I drove. All Santa Fes include remote keyless entry, a rearview camera, a roof rack with side rails, the Driver Selectable Steering Mode, and SiriusXM activation with a three-month trial subscription.

The test model added the Ultimate Package ($4,650) with a panoramic sunroof, ventilated/cooled front seats and heated rear seats, a rear parking sensor, and a heated steering wheel.

Pricing for the 2016 Santa Fe starts at $31,295. The as-tested pricing came to $42,385.

 

Highlander Limited Platinum AWD

2016-03-14-h-lander-fr-licIf the Highlander had sliding doors, it could be a minivan. But it’s not. It’s a crossover SUV and that only increases its appeal. Regarding capability, it doesn’t pretend to have an SUV’s off-road bravado but it does offer families the versatility and convenience they’re after.

Powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine matched to a six-speed automatic transmission, the Highlander has a city/highway EPA estimated fuel economy of 18/24 mpg. I averaged 19 mpg on the test drive. A 2.7-liter four-cylinder is the base engine.2016-03-10-highl-camera

Offered in five trim levels, the Limited Platinum is the top-of-the-line model and as such, it includes a few striking features, like a panoramic sunroof with a power sunshade, heated and cooled leather front seats, heated second-row seats, the Driver Technology Package that includes a pre-collision system with Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, and Entune cover art displays on the eight-inch entertainment touchscreen.2016-03-14-high-rear

Safety features carry particular clout on a family vehicle. The Highlander includes its signature Star Safety System with traction control, anti-lock braking, etc, plus a backup camera and Hill-start Assist Control. The Platinum test model also included a blind spot monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert and rear parking sonar. It’s unfortunate that these features remain so exclusive.

The versatile SUV can seat up to eight or seven like the test vehicle, and the rear seats are split to fold flat for expanded cargo carrying space of 83.7 cu.ft.

Pricing for the 2016 Highlander starts at $31,390. The as-tested pricing came to $45,390.

Lexus RX 350 F Sport

2016-03-08-lex-rxsideWhen Lexus first introduced its RX premium CUV, some say the luxury CUV segment was born. Four generations later, Lexus redesigned the RX, now the RX 350, for 2016, in a big way. The new exterior adds style to what had been a fairly vanilla design.

Like its siblings, it bears the spindle grille, but the floating roof design is unique. On the inside, the attention to detail, enhanced further with the F Sport exclusive Rioja Red leather seats on the test model, an available 12.3”-display screen, a mouse control for selecting onboard functions like audio, navigation and others, set it apart.2016-03-08-lexusrxfrseats

It’s a five-seater but the seats are split 40/20/40 to fold flat for extra cargo room of 56.3 cu.ft.

Powered by a 3.5-liter V6 matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission, the test model had an EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy of 19/26 mpg. I averaged 21.8 mpg on the test drive. Drive select modes also improve performance, allowing drivers to select among Sport, Eco, and Normal settings. The F Sport added the Sport+ mode and Adaptive Variable Suspension for better handling.

2016-03-08-lex-rxrear-licStandard safety features include a Smart Access Remote key, and Lexus Enform Safety Connect, the onboard emergency alert system. As we’ve seen, more advanced safety features tend to be grouped as a package but for a mere $500 extra, a blind spot monitor was included on the test model as a stand-alone option. Nice but at this price point, it should be standard.

Pricing for the 2016 RX 350 starts at $43,995. Equipped with AWD, the as-tested pricing came to $56,775.

 

SUVs

Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro

2016-04-05-4runner-licMidsize SUVs are far and away the most popular SUV segment, more than 700,000 had sold in September YTD according to The Wall Street Journal. The 4Runner emphasizes the sporting side of an SUV and the TRD Pro is the sportiest model of all. It easily takes to off-road challenges as well as cruising on city streets.

The test model came in a unique TRD shade for 2016, Quicksand, that many seemed to find attractive, based on the comments I received.

2016-04-05-4-runner-dash3Powered by a 4.0-liter V6 matched to a five-speed automatic transmission, the TRD has a maximum tow rating of 5,000 pounds. Happily, a tow hitch is included as a standard feature. Don’t expect fuel efficiency, however. I earned 17 mpg on the test drive.

Built for off-roading, the TRD offers plenty of ground clearance, assisted by its 17-inch wheels—it did make climbing in and out of it a bid challenging for the short statured like me. Off-roading equipment on the TRD included a part-time four-wheel–drive (4WD) system with Active Trac, a locking rear differential, Multi-Terrain Select, Crawl Control, and Hill-Start Assist. Besides the TRD badging,, the package included special shocks and stamped aluminum front skid plates.2016-04-05-4-runnerrear-lic

The 4Runner offers seating for five or seven and split second and third-row seats that fold flat for a maximum cargo capacity of 89.7 cubic feet.

Pricing for the 4Runner starts at $34,750. The as-tested price came to $42,800.

 

Dodge Durango R/T

2016-09-20-durango-fr2The Dodge Durango brings a sporty option to the large SUV segment and the R/T trim level takes that sportiness to the next level. Add to that its rear-wheel-drive configuration and the Radar Red Nappa leather seating on the test model that I drove, and the Durango R/T carries unique appeal.

Improved for 2016, the Durango achieves better fuel economy with engine stop-start technology on models with a 3.6-liter V6. Powered by the available 5.7-liter HEMI V8 that delivers 360 horsepower and 390 lb.-ft. of torque, the R/T zoomed through traffic and on the highway. 2016-09-20-duranago-seatsMated to an eight-speed automatic transmission it had a maximum towing capacity of 7,400 lbs. With an EPA city/highway estimated economy of 14/22 mpg for the R/T, fuel economy does suffer a bit. I averaged better than expected, however, earning 20 mpg in the city and 24.9 on the highway.

The R/T does come with a parking sensor and backup camera but more advanced safety features like a blind spot monitor and Cross Path Detection are grouped in the Customer Preferred Package ($1,995).

2016-09-20-durangorear-lic Standard creature comforts on the top-of-the-line R/T included heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, tri-zone air conditioning, and the Beats premium audio system. Additional options on the test model included a rear DVD entertainment system ($1995), second-row captains chairs and a third row of seating ($995), and a power sunroof ($1,195).

Pricing for the Durango starts at $31,490. The as-tested pricing was $49,170.

 

GMC Yukon Denali XL

2016-07-19-yukonThe Denali name stands for luxury throughout the GMC lineup. The brand’s largest offering, the Yukon XL, also stands at the top of the lineup when it comes to capability, including seating, cargo room, and maximum towing.

The trade-off will be fuel economy. Powered by a choice of two V8 engines, I drove the 6.2-liter version with 420 hp and 460 lb.–ft. of torque and matched to an eight-speed transmission. Available with 4WD and two-wheel-drive configurations, I drove the former with a maximum towing capability of 8,100 pounds when properly equipped. It has an EPA estimated city/highway fuel economy of 14/20 mpg. I averaged 19.2 mpg.

2016-07-19-yukon-seats2As the top-of-the-line model, the Denali includes a healthy list of standard features, including advanced safety technology like a blind-spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert, and my favorite GM innovation, the safety alert seat. It buzzes on the right or left of the seat to warn of potential danger, from lane drifting to a potential collision. The test model added more than $9,000 in additional packages and options, including GM’s signature Head-Up display ($425).

2016-07-19-yukon-rear2-licOne of the roomiest SUVs on the market, the XL stretches the wheelbase even further. It has seating for nine and both the second and third row fold flat to create 121.1 cubic inches of cargo room.

Pricing for the Yukon starts at $49,510. The as-tested pricing came to $81,045.

Family vehicles need to be tough and versatile to make the grade. This list meets that criteria, and in some cases, surpasses them.

Apr 282016
 

2015-10-13 audi.A7

Luxury sedan buyers seek status, style, and performance. A recent test drive by Latino Traffic Report revealed that the 2016 Audi A7 fits the bill.

The A7’s appeal begins with a distinctive exterior, accentuated by design cues that several brands have emulated, i.e. how many trapezoidal grilles can you count on the road?

2015-10-13 audi.A72For the current model year, the A7 received a new front fascia with LED headlights that emit the Audi light signature (also widely copied), a widened grille, LED taillights, and new trapezoidal tailpipes at the rear. Its long and sleek silhouette belies its midsize classification.

A 3.0-liter V6 supercharged turbo engine powers the A7 (diesel engines have been removed from the lineup for the time being). Matched to an eight-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission with paddle shifters on the steering wheel and equipped with quattro permanent all-wheel drive, the engine achieves 333 horsepower and 325 lb.–ft. of torque. This powertrain accelerates from zero to 60 miles per hour in 5.2 seconds. The EPA estimated fuel economy is 20 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. I averaged 32.2 mpg.

2015-10-13 A7.stackA beautiful exterior demands an exceptionally plush interior, and that’s what the A7 delivers. While I would expect to find heated leather seats and real wood accents, the test model pushed the envelope a bit further with the optional ($700) layered Walnut inlays.

Inside, the A7 offers plenty of cabin space, including 37 inches of rear legroom and 24.5 cubic feet of cargo capacity in the trunk. The 60/40-split rear seat expands cargo room further. As an added premium touch, the test model included a power button on the trunk, akin to one on a power liftgate.

Infotainment technology begins with an eight-inch center screen that displays the Audi MMI system featuring Audi connect that allows access to the internet via a 4G LTE connection, as well as an integrated Wi-Fi hotspot for passenger devices. Plus, there’s a CD player.

The A7 also comes with a power sunroof, power adjust steering column, four-zone climate control, a rearview camera, parking sensors, and navigation.2015-10-13 A7.camera

Available safety technology for 2016 includes adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go function, enhanced night vision assist, and the Audi pre-sense system. The test model also included Audi active lane assist that helps keep the vehicle in its lane, so much so, however, that it can feel aggressive, like a ghost in the machine.

Available in two trim levels, Premium Plus or Prestige, Audi A7 2016 pricing starts at $69,225. I drove the Prestige that added $2,650 to the price including the Bose surround sound stereo, ventilated front seats, LED interior lighting, and the head-up display.

2015-10-13 A7rearWith three additional packages, the as-tested price came to $77,725.

: The A7 will not disappoint buyers looking for a status symbol with a distinctive design and plush interior.

No: Too many safety and tech features come as part of packages rather than standard features, escalating the price substantially.

May 042015
 

2015-04-15 Q5

Once car prices pass the $40,000 mark, there should be little to complain about. Folks will pay at least that much for the 2015 Audi Q5 luxury sport utility vehicle (SUV). On a recent test drive in Austin, TX, there was indeed, lots to like, and a little not, about the elegant SUV.

The specific test model was the Q5 TDI quattro Tiptronic. Few manufacturers have remained as committed to selling diesel powertrains in the United States as Volkswagen, and the same goes for its luxury brand, Audi.

More refined than ever, diesels are quieter and cleaner, but efforts to dispel old sooty images remain a challenge. I literally forgot that I was driving a diesel and its impressive EPA estimated fuel economy of 24 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 31 mpg on the highway made it so I didn’t need to pump more fuel. The fuel economy on the diesel even surpasses that of the Q5 Hybrid.

Elegant two-tone leather seats.

Elegant two-tone leather seats.

The powertrain includes a 3.0-liter V6 clean diesel engine with 240 horsepower and 428 lb–ft of torque, matched to an eight-speed Tiptronic engine with paddle shifters on the steering wheel for simulated manual shifting.

There is an average fuel economy calculator onboard to measure fuel efficiency, and once I found it using the Owners Manual (it was hidden behind the Tiptronic shifter on the steering wheel and attached to the windshield wiper wand), it showed my average mpg hovering at around 31.5.

As the name implies, the Q5 also came equipped with the quattro all-wheel-drive (AWD) system. It reduces fuel economy a tad but provides added confidence on slick road conditions and improved driving performance. Introduced 35 years ago, it was the first permanent AWD system for passenger cars.

Q5 Dash (not test model)

Q5 Dash (not test model)

Another feature that made itself immediately apparent was the blind spot warning system, or Audi side assist, that flashes brightly on the side view mirrors. Surprisingly, this system, and many more, e.g. back-up camera, aren’t standard but available on the Prestige model that adds $7,500 to the price.

Standard safety features include the usual suspects, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, and side curtain airbags, among others.

Available in five models, 2.0T, 3.0T, TDI clean diesel, hybrid, and SQ5, and three trim levels, all Q5s come with leather seats, tri-zone climate control, cruise control, an AM/FM/SAT radio with SD card reader and CD player, and power liftgate. Stepping up to the Premium Plus trim level adds Audi Connect that includes one of the first in-vehicle Wi-Fi hotspots for up to eight passenger devices as well as Google Earth Mapping and real-time access to information.

2015-04-12 Q5cargoThe Premium Plus also adds a panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, and Audi advanced key—keyless start, stop, and entry. The Prestige (the test model) includes all the above plus a rearview camera, Audi side assist, and MMI navigation plus with voice control and Audi connect.

With any SUV, versatility matters. The Q5’s 40/20/40 split rear bench folds easily. Once folded flat, cargo volume expands to 57.3 cubic feet. I had a chance to test this on the way to an event where I sold serapes as a fundraiser for the Center for Mexican American Cultural Arts in Austin.

The Q5 TDI offers excellent performance and fuel economy, but packaging to get features like a back-up camera that other brands include as standard, will force the price up very quickly. Pricing for the 2015 Q5 2.0T starts at $40,225. The as-tested price for the 2015 Q5 TDI that included several additional packages came to $62,025.2015-04-15 q5lic

 

Sí: Very quiet and refined diesel with impressive fuel economy.
No: Packaging sets too high a price for features that should be standard on a luxury vehicle.